Saturday, January 26, 2008

Journey to Disbelief

In an email, a friend asked me about how I came to my disbelief in matters of religion at a relatively early age. Unfortunately for him, I took the opportunity to unload. Here is my response:

I did not grow up in a religious household. My mom denies this story, but I have a foggy memory of asking her if God exists and her response was "probably not." Growing up in Rhode Island, I didn't know anyone who regularly attended church. As a result, I always considered religion a quaint little hope that nobody really believed in their heart of hearts.

My move to Indiana during High School was a tremendous shock (so much so that I literally cannot recall large portions of my Freshman year!). Prayers, PUBLIC SCHOOL convocations with Bible thumping football non-stars, and 'senior projects' about Christianity's power to save souls displayed, again, in the corridors of a PUBLIC SCHOOL, were bizarre and unsettling novelties. (I battled for the removal of that highly erroneous and misleading 'senior project,' but ultimately lost).

These experiences changed me from an uninterested agnostic into an almost obsessive rationalist as I struggled to make sense of the people around me and their new forms of ignorance and irrationality. At a young age, I was especially attracted to the theory of evolution (discovered through a stereotypical, boyish love-affair with dinosaurs) and adored how the theory is so simple, ingenious and elucidating. I think I felt short-changed coming to Indiana, trading an Earth science class that incorporated evolution for a biology course that examined the theory for less than a week. I eventually discovered that religion seemed to be the root cause.

It didn't help that, despite all the piety and claims of high morality, people were still mean. When I discovered a rumor had spread that my father, in a supposed drunken stupor, was responsible for blinding my right eye with a beer bottle, I was devastated by the stone-cold evil ignorance of the accusation. It was clear that my new community was not privy to any benevolent, ultimate truth.

Finally, the recent and seemingly sudden conversion of a once close friend to Catholicism plunged me once again into the question of religion. As a result, I'd say my atheism is somewhat less secure --this guy is way more intelligent than me!--but nagging questions of psychological motivations and the persuasiveness of the so-called "New Atheist Movement" have left my beliefs largely unchanged. And that about brings me up to today.


que rediculo! said...

you shouldn't let a bunch of hoosiers sway your views so much. ahem. they're HOOSIERS. lol.

anyway, i like how you're so viceral about religion. it IS problematic.

for some people.

but for others, like your friend, it can be embraceable. (sp?)

i think DOGMATISM, itself, is the underlying theme in a lot of your grievances (sp?). although you yourself can be, at times, dogmatic, with your (am I harsh?) anti-religious viewpoints.

Jay said...

Well, I certainly try my best to steer clear from dogmatic thinking, but I'm sure I fail from time to time.

Mike said...

Interesting story Jay. I went to a Catholic school, and was taught about evolution by my teacher (a nun from Guatamala), in the 70's. I don't think that subject was typically Catholic, but I don't know where I'd be today without it.

Something I've realized (anecdotally), is that the correlation between intelligence and lack of belief is not very strong. There is a correlation, but the standard deviation is very wide.

A stronger correlation, is that the more intelligent the person, the more complex the apologetic.

I hope we will learn more about why this is the case soon, from brain research done by Sam Harris and others.

Jay said...

I could be wrong, but I don't think Sam Harris will be doing much brain research.